I used to scoff at the notion that one’s language is an integral part of one’s identity. In my mind, language was just an interface against the world, a communications module that could be replaced without sentimentality.
To a degree I still feel that way, but only on a large scale; I see no problem with languages going extinct or merging so that only one global language remains in use. If a language is no longer spoken, there is no practical reason to preserve it in living form. (To record it before the last speaker dies can have its academic uses of course.)
But on a personal level I’ve begun to feel more and more attached to my native tongue. When I was younger, I felt confident in learning a new language to a degree where I was fluent in it. As time passed, and my hubris waned, I realized that I could never become truly fluent in anything but my first language.
I cannot escape the fact that I was born and raised in a monolinguistic fashion. Sure, English was all around me, but it wasn’t really until I started watching low-quality, high-fun TV shows after school that I really started to take it in. The little town library had a meager selection of Swedish books, let alone anything foreign. What foreign books I read, I read in translated form.
We did start English classes in 4th grade (think they start in 2nd grade nowadays – not that it helps much) but most of my English knowledge I’ve gotten from pop culture. My belief that school has but the slightest to do with learning is fuelled by the fact that I started to read German in 6th grade and continued throughout my school years, but am miles and miles behind English, proficiency-wise.
So I’m not a “true” bilingual and never will be.
There are theories saying that the language we speak influences the way we think. It’s such an intriguing thought that I’ll probably expand on that in a future rambling. Anyway, if this is true (and many things suggest it is), then surely our identity is affected as well?
It sure seems that way, when you hear people lament the “loss” of language coming to a foreign country sometimes incurs. Surrounded by people who can’t speak your language, you are no longer speaking another language by choice but by necessity. Since I’ve never had to experience such a forced transition, I still wonder if not the shifting of one’s cultural paradigm has more to do with it.
But trusting in what people with experience say, it is important for one’s sense of self to speak one’s first language.
This all makes me wonder.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
said Oscar Wilde, quote factory extraordinaire.
If what he said is true, could it be that people can lie more easily in a foreign language? My intuition told me that it probably is so. Some weaksauce google fu later, it seemed less clear. It seems that people attach a greater emotional weight to statements they hear in L1 (the excursion also gave me some new pieces of terminology, which I am embracing with vigor and no doubt subtle misunderstanding).
But when it comes to lying, it starts to depend. On the one hand, people prefer to lie in L1 if it is both their most emotional and their most proficient language. On the other hand, if proficiency is equal, people prefer their least emotional language for lying in, which makes sense in a way. We tend to assume that controlling one’s emotions is key to successfully lying.
Either way, it seems our sense of identity is closely related to our language. Also, Oscar Wilde is a genius.
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